As parents we all know that our relationship with our spouse is transformed when we have children. There is something magical about watching your partner engage and bond with your child. Yet, those magical moments can quickly disappear if we feel as if our spouse does not contribute equally in terms of parental responsibilities.
This complaint of one spouse having more to do with child rearing than the other is one that I often hear in parenting classes, when I’m with a group of friends, and even among total strangers at the park. Strong feelings of frustration, resentment and anger can often emerge and our once blissful relationship with our partner begins to deteriorate.
Parenting expert Nancy Samalin challenges us to reflect upon whether we might be sabotaging our spouse’s efforts at parenting by insisting that everything be done on our own terms. This was a hard concept for me to swallow at first blush, but also something that I definitely needed to hear since I am the parent who is home more often with the children.
As I pondered Samalin’s comments I thought of the times when my husband would walk in the door, see that I was exhausted, and offer to give me a much needed break. I was thrilled to get some relief but somehow I would often find myself back in the room questioning whether the kids should really be having a snack before dinner or giving a look of disapproval over a game that I thought was getting too rough. I wanted my husband’s help, I really did, as long as he did things my way.
I’ve since realized that if I had continued to insist that things be done my way, I would have been doing my husband (not to mention my children) a huge disservice and our relationship would have suffered tremendously. I’ve learned that my husband may not do things exactly the way I do and that it can actually serve as a benefit to our children. For example, instead of viewing a game as “too dangerous” I now appreciate that my husband encourages the kids to be physical risk takers – a skill that does not come naturally to me. It became very clear to me that whether my kids wore jackets when it was cold outside was far less important than the fact that they were bonding with their father (even if they were doing it while freezing).
So before we utter a critique of our spouse’s efforts at parenting, perhaps we can pause for a moment, reflect, and offer instead words of appreciation and watch how it impacts not only our relationship but also our partner’s willingness to be an involved parent.